The Big Conversation: What is round the corner in 2017?

18/11/2016

In many ways, 2016 has been one of the most turbulent and surprising years in recent memory. It’s with this in mind – and all of the uncertainty that recent events bring – that we have to keep our ear to the ground.

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Market Intelligence Analysts, Mintel, have done just that, and all of the indications are that the coming 12 months will be dominated by several major trends.

The first of these is instant interaction. In the year that Pokémon Go took the world by storm, geo-targeting and beacon technology are becoming ever-more intelligent, and time pressure means that we want things in the here and now. Indeed, 29% of Millennials are perfectly happy to reveal their location over mobile in return for relevant, location-determined ads, and 42% of us get our leisure fix during off-peak hours.

Some innovators have already tapped into this phenomenon; in the USA, NBA clubs sell cut-price tickets in unfilled stadia to passers-by; in continental Europe, the FoodLoop app notifies customers of reduced food available nearby. All of this means that if a brand has something compelling to offer, at affordable prices, customers will engage with them – but only on their own terms.

Added to the frenetic pace of modern life, the way we spend cash is changing, too. Six years have passed since Contactless payment first came to the UK, but 3 billion payments were made by this method in 2015-16.  It’s true that many still don’t trust near-field communication (NFC) payments (81% would not consider using their mobile phone to pay for goods), but our experience of money is evolving all the same.

Yet, as the tangible link between us and our money declines, the spectacle of unchecked, reckless spending becomes more overt. This is something which all companies must have a firm handle upon, by talking regularly with their customers.

And this communication carries over into general interaction, too. We’re a social, mobile society these days - 47% of Europeans use social media at least once per week - and as individuals, we’re increasingly speaking to businesses online. Be it to order a Domino’s, through Messenger or complain about a late train with a passive-aggressive tweet, we expect instant gratification. Successful companies will recognise this, and speak to people at modern life’s pace.

Integrity will be important, too, in the coming 12 months, as the food and drink industry comes to terms with impending legislative change. The facts speak for themselves: at least 30% of the European population is overweight (as high as 70% in some regions) and the average 4-10 year old eats the equivalent of a five-year-old child in sugar every year. This is a ticking time-bomb, and one which we all must come to terms with – not just as consumers or businesses, but as parents, siblings and children. The UK’s sugar tax on carbonated drinks is a response to this which will be introduced in 2018, and it is part of a growing trend across the continent. Elsewhere, in Mexico (the world’s largest consumers of fizzy drinks), a similar tax has seen a 12% decline in consumption, and evidence suggests that similar declines will happen here.

Some food companies may be concerned about profit margins, but there is a public health issue at play here. People are concerned about their diets – 53% want to cut back on their sugar – and as sugar becomes the ‘new tobacco’, the profile of natural alternatives is set to increase. What is important here is that edible goods companies recognise the views of their customers, engage with them, and help to change consumption for the better. While some will shout ‘unfair taxes’, public opinion is on the side of health, and saving the NHS £5 billion per year. In this respect, trade with Africa will grow in importance, too. As the power of the European Union appears to be on the wane, its African counterpart is becoming increasingly influential, and the natural products available from Africa are becoming more appealing to European consumers.

Lastly, 2017 will see climate change firmly in the public consciousness. The USA may have just elected a climate change denier as its president, but with the Paris Agreement coming into force, Europe is determined to get a handle on carbon emissions. With fossil fuel bans on the way (diesel cars will be banned in Paris by 2020), people are becoming concerned about the cleanliness of their environment, and what they can do to protect their health. Once more, here, companies must engage with customers and show a genuine effort to reduce emissions.

Overall, the hangover of 2016 will most certainly impact 2017 in a major way – Trump and Brexit are just starting points. But as people become more anxious about the world around them, it is important to engage in dialogue, and stay part of the conversation.

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